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A Storm Needs Lightning

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P.O.V Jackson Storm

Storm freezes. He looks behind him in shock, expecting to see familiar red and gold paint. He doesn’t see that though, it’s not Lightning. It’s someone else, a racer in a yellow car. They’re yelling at him, Taunting him. Trying to make him lose the race. It’s Cruz Ramirez, he realizes, Lightning’s trainer. Her car is bright yellow, and in his rearview mirror Storm can see Lightning’s number crudely painted on the side. He thinks its a joke at first, that its a sick joke designed to make him lose focus. If it is, it’s working, because Cruz Ramirez is able to easily catch up to him. Storm only watches as the bright yellow car drives up next to him. Storm is too distracted to focus on her though. His eyes rake through the stands searching for him. For Lightning.

Storm’s trainer is screaming at him through the headset, telling him to focus. Storm pays him no attention. He spots Lightning standing in the crew pit, blond hair glinting in the sunlight. He’s not on the track racing, but instead he’s in the crew pit. Why would Lightning be there? Why would he be in the crew pit?! Is he helping Cruz? Storm is losing speed, his foot is sliding off the petal, his eyes are glued to Lightning. Storm’s mind is reeling, he is trying to come up with a reason for Cruz Ramirez to be on the track while Lightning is up in the stands. He can’t come up with a scenario he likes.

Storm is too lost in thought to be angry, to even be concerned about winning this race. The black and white checkered finish line comes into view quicker than he imagined, but he can’t bring himself to care. Winning is no longer on his mind, not even when he sees Cruz pass him. Normally he would be angry, try to regain speed and quickly advance. If the situation were different Storm could see himself forcing her to the outskirts of the track, making her car slam against the wall. But he doesn’t. He hears the crowd screaming, hears the racing announcer say Cruz has won. Storm is still behind her, he finishes second but does not even realize it.

The other racers cross the finish line. They move off the track, but Storm stays. Storm looks at Lightning. Even from this distance Storm can see his eyes. Lightning is smiling at Cruz, congratulating her. Storm feels numb. It shouldn’t be her out there. She didn’t deserve that win.

Eventually, he moves his car out of the stadium. Only because his trainer tells him to. He is on autopilot now. Moving his car only because it is so natural to him. When he exits he sees swarms of people waiting outside. Many of them are reporters, who immediately rush to his car.

They yell out questions to him.

“STORM, what happened?!”

“How could you lose?!!”

“You had a 96% chance of winning!”

Storm can’t think, he can’t respond. It’s too loud, there are too many people around him, blocking his exit.

Storm can’t take it. He finally moves, slamming his hand on the horn. The crowd is shocked, people yell, they curse, they stare at him with confusion written all over their faces. Then they all part just enough to make a path he can fit his car through. Storm slams his foot on the gas and leaves the stadium.

He can still hear his trainer yelling at him to come back, saying that he isn’t supposed to take his car out of the stadium. Storm does not care. He rips his headset off, his helmet follows. He drives quickly. He needs to get away from the noise, from the people, from Cruz Ramirez basking in her victory. He can’t stand to think about her. About the smug smile she was wearing when Storm glanced at her. He needs to get off the streets. There are too many other people around, too many people watching him. He drives to his hotel, taking back roads whenever he can to avoid people.

His hotel is close to the Florida racetrack, and his racecar is much faster than the other cars outside of the stadium. Granted he probably shouldn’t be driving around in public with it, but Storm can’t bring himself to care about that now.

He hides his car in the parking garage downstairs, before stomping up the stairs to the lobby. He can feel the receptionist at the hotel desk staring at him, and he feels himself reaching the limit for what he can tolerate. “Stop staring at me!” He snaps, before closing the elevator door once he’s inside. Once he makes it to his hotel room he goes inside and slams the door shut behind him. His mind is running a million miles a minute and he can’t seem to focus on anything. He wants to scream. To break something. To march right up to Cruz Ramirez and tell her she didn’t deserve to win. Of course, he doesn’t end up doing any of these things.

He sits on his bed and turns on his tv, hands clenching at his sides. Footage of after the race is still going on and Storm watches intently. There are people interviewing Cruz and Lightning, reporters no doubt. Surely there to ask Lightning why he decided to let Cruz race for him.

Storm stares at Lightning’s face when he answers. Smiling brightly for the cameras like he always does. Lightning tells the reporters he is going to act as Cruz’s crew chief from now on.
Storm freezes. It is unspoken but the fact is still there. Lightning can’t be her crew chief and a racer. There is a brief moment when Lightning looks as if he will change his mind, but Storm watches him glance at Cruz and then the look is gone.

Storm feels sick. Lightning is quitting? He can’t! He won’t, Storm thinks. The reporters stop questioning them and he watches as Lightning leaves the stadium. Storm is so angry. He is so confused. More than anything he is tired, and when he leans his head back towards the pillow and buries his head in his hands he realizes this. He wants to sleep if only to escape the nightmare that just happened. He can’t stay awake. Not when he has been racing for the last few hours. He stares up at the ceiling, but it soon fades to black, and sleep consumes him.

 

When Storm wakes up he sits up rigidly. What time is it? It is dark in his room, and he can’t see anything. He looks toward the window but sees no sunlight, so he guesses it is night time. He fumbles for his phone in the darkness, and the screen lights up. 1:32 am, great. Not surprising as he fell asleep in the middle of the day. Storm sees notifications pop up on his phone. Three missed calls from his trainer, one from his cousin. That one’s a surprise. Kelly rarely contacts him.

Then it hits Storm like a sack of bricks. Lightning. He goes on the internet searching desperately to see if it is true. Still hanging onto a thin thread of hope that what he found out a few hours ago is not really true, that Lightning was just kidding. That it was all just a joke, a highly elaborate one at that, but still a joke. Every interview he finds states the indisputable truth. Lightning McQueen is done racing professionally. He is going to act as Cruz Ramirez’s crew chief once the next racing season starts. Storm feels empty. He worked so hard, and for so long to become a racer. He waited so long for this, to race with Lightning. To have it taken away so quickly is crushing. Storm’s disappointment turns quickly to anger. Anger towards Cruz Ramirez for taking Lightning’s place. Anger towards Lightning for giving up. Anger towards himself for not doing anything about it.

Then he has an idea. It strikes him suddenly, and out of the blue. it is more impulsive than most of his decisions, much more. But it quickly gains substance in his mind, fueled with the possibility of success. What if he were to convince Lightning to come back? Storm knows Lightning still wants to be a racer. If he could just talk to him, Storm is sure he could get through. He could remind Lightning of who he is! Lightning McQueen is a racer, Not a crew chief! Storm could explain that to him! Once he convinces Lightning everything else should be easy! Lightning would have no trouble getting his number back. No one would dare to deny him his place if he wanted it.

The plan is decided then before Storm has developed it completely. He fumbles around his hotel room, turning the lights on.

 

Storm grabs his phone, and it’s charger, shoving them into his pocket. He did not bring much else with him, as he was supposed to return to his apartment tonight. Storm grabs his wallet and keys on the way out the door and is holding his shoes in his hand. He feels giddy with excitement and hops around in the elevator on one foot trying to put his shoes on. Or it could be adrenaline after him not really sleeping enough.

He races past the front desk, dropping off his key, startling the receptionist. He bounds down the steps to the parking garage and finds his racecar. He gets inside quickly. Storm’s plan is kind of thrown together, but he is sure of it now. He will go to Lightning. Storm knows where Lightning lives, he’s mentioned it a few times in his career. Lightning lives in the Midwest, somewhere between New Mexico and Arizona, in a small town called Radiator Springs. Storm had never been there before, but it looked like now he was going to have the chance.

Storm debates driving his car to the airport and getting a plane. He knows that is what Lightning does when he finishes racing. Lightning flies to Radiator Springs and his truck driver brings his car back. Lightning has probably just got home since he flew. Storm considers his options. Flying would get him there quicker, but there was no guarantee on how he would get to Radiator Springs from whatever airport is closest to it, Storm doubts there is an airport in the town. Storm doesn’t even know if there is a flight at this time.

He decides on driving. In a normal car with normal stops, it would take roughly 30-35 hours. Storm is confident that in his racecar he can get there sooner, especially if he limits his stops. Storm puts his phone up on the dashboard and waits for his GPS to give directions on how to get to Radiator Springs. While it is loading he takes the time to quickly text Kelly. His cousin usually does not call unless it is an emergency, so she must be worried about him after seeing him on TV leave the stadium in his car. Storm has no intention of filling her in on his plan yet though, so he sends her a short message saying he is ok.

The GPS is done planning his route so Storm starts his car. He is going to get to Lightning. Nothing is going to stop him.

Storm is about 6 hours into his drive when he sees the sun start to rise. Damn, he thinks. The darkness has given him pretty good cover until now, and he has only passed a few cars on the road at this hour. Nighttime is also the best time for him to speed, as it's not as likely a cop will try to pull him over. Normally he wouldn’t speed this much but time is of the essence. Once it is daylight though he is sure someone is going to notice his racecar. Going 160 MPH down the interstate is sure to draw some attention. Storm slows down as he nears a convenience store, figuring he needs to use the restroom and get something to eat.

He ends up with two cans of red bull and a pop tart. The cashier raises his eyebrow questioningly, noticing his racing uniform and car outside. Storm gives the man a polite smile and pays for his things. He is back on the road quickly and takes a slightly longer route as to try and avoid more people. As expected people still see him, and they have their phones out, recording videos or taking pictures. Storm ignores them and speeds up. He does not care about this making the news. He only cares about getting to Radiator Springs, about getting Lightning to change his mind.

Storm continues driving. Sure enough, it gets dark after another few hours and Storm guesses he is somewhere in Texas, but he isn’t sure. Storm starts to feel the first signs of tiredness when the sun starts to set the next day. It makes sense, as by now he’s driven roughly 18 hours. He downs another red bull and ignores it. He still has a long way to go. If he was younger Storm would barely be able to keep his eyes open, but he’s had plenty of experience driving for long stretches of time. Storm plays his music through the car speaker, it helps him to stay awake. It’s difficult to fall asleep when loud club music is blaring through his speaker. He drives another few hours. It's 11 pm now. Storm’s been driving for 21 hours. He guesses he can make it to Radiator Springs in a few hours, but his eyes keep closing and he’s worried he won’t make it. Even red bull has its limits and Storm decides to take a little break. He pulls over to the side of the road and sleeps for an hour or so. As expected it wasn’t that easy to fall asleep sitting rigidly in the driver’s seat, and Storm is too tall to lay down in the back.

When he wakes up he sees another call from his trainer. Sooner or later he figures he’ll have to answer. Storm calls him. His trainer is a nice guy, but he gets exasperated whenever Storm doesn’t listen to him, which is actually quite often now that Storm thinks about it. After 2 rings, Tony answers. His voice is sluggish when he answers - he must be tired.

“Storm?” Tony asks questioningly.

“Yeah” Storm answers.

“What’s going on? Where are you?” he asks tiredly.

“I’m taking a vacation. You won’t hear from me for a few days.”

“Huh?! Wait! Storm! You have to practice! You have to come back and train! Next racing season starts in a few months and you need to be ready! You can’t just…”

Storm hangs up. He’s too tired and too irritated to deal with this right now.

Storm starts his car again and gets on the road. He’s still tired, but the nap helped him enough so that he is at least not closing his eyes every few seconds. Storm is close to Radiator Springs now. He’s driving through the barren desert in New Mexico, and he makes sure to check his gas because the last thing he needs is to be stranded here. As he continues driving Storm allows himself to reflect more on the race. Which doesn’t serve to make him feel better at all, It only agitates him more. Him being tired isn’t helping anything either.

Storm finds his ever-present anger returning again, He still can’t believe that he’s doing this. But if he doesn’t, what would that mean for Lightning? What would that mean for him? He waited so long to race with Lightning. It’s been his dream for as long as he can remember. Storm doesn’t know what he can say to Lightning to change things, but he is not going to let his entire purpose be stripped away from him so easily. Storm speeds up. He’s going fast in this desert wasteland, close to 180 Miles per hour. It isn’t as fast as he can go, but it’s incredibly dangerous and incredibly illegal outside of the racetrack. Storm doesn’t care. Every time he thinks of how easy it was for Lightning to just quit he fumes. Lightning McQueen is the world’s greatest racer! He’s still young! There’s still time for him to do so much more with his racing career!

Storm can feel himself frowning. He grips the steering wheel tighter. As he drives for another mile or so he sees a sign in the distance. Radiator Springs. This is it, he thinks. This is his chance. Storm debates stopping to check his reflection in the mirror but decides against it.

He slows down once he gets closer to town and pulls over to the side of the road. The town is larger then he imagined, Or at least it looks that way to him now. He grabs his phone and shoves it into his pocket before exiting his car. He looks around what he guesses is the center of town. The first thing he notices is that it’s hot outside. Storm is used to it, living in Florida, but it is still not that pleasant. Especially not when he’s wearing a full body black and blue racing uniform. The buildings surrounding him are not overly tall, they look like typical small town buildings. Storm spots two young men standing in front of a tire shop. He moves closer to them.

As he moves closer he sees a man in a firefighter’s uniform watering flowers between the tire shop and him. Storm calls out to him.

“Excuse me, sir! I’m looking for..”

The man yelps and literally runs off, leaving his watering can behind. Storm stares at him in shock. He doesn’t know what to think of that. Only that he’s never seen a firefighter scared of people before.

He hears laughter coming from the men sitting in front of the tire shop, and Storm turns toward them. The smaller one with black curly hair laughs, and the older one glances at him with a puzzled expression. Storm walks towards them.

The closer he gets he realizes he recognizes these two. The smaller man who’s laughing is Lightning’s pit crew. Normally a racer needs around four people to change the car’s tires and fill it with gas before the racer needs to get back to racing, but Storm has watched this guy change Lightning’s tires and fill up his gas tank just as fast as it takes four people. The taller man with brown hair calls out to him.

“Oh don’t mind Red, he just gets a little shy around strangers that’s all.” This man has a heavy Italian accent and Storm remembers that he is also a part of Lightning’s crew. Storm has seen this guy with Lightning before, he didn’t realize they all lived in the same town though.

“Oh,” Storm says stupidly.

The man introduces himself. “I’m Luigi and this is Guido,” he says gesturing to the smaller man. Luigi looks him up and down and then stares at his face for a minute.

“I’m Storm.”

Guido looks up at him with a frown. “Jackson Storm? The racer?” he asks.

Storm nods. Judging by the expressions on their faces, they are clearly not fans of him. Storm ignores it.

“Listen please help me. I need to find Lightning. Where is he?” Storm asks pleadingly.

Luigi and Guido look at him in shock before Guido answers.

“Go check Flo’s V8 Cafe. Lightning stops in there often” Guido says pointing towards the cafe.

Storm nods his head in thanks, then turns and runs toward it.

“Hey wait!” Luigi shouts. “Did you drive here from Florida?!”

Storm doesn’t respond. He runs faster. He is livid with Lightning for making him go through all this. Not to mention he’s tired as hell. Storm can see him through the window. Blond head turned away from him as he sits at the bar.

Storm pushes the door open with a force that was definitely not needed and shouts

“LIGHTNING MCQUEEN!”